Charles de Gaulle Airport, Terminal 1, Copyright © 2007, Doc Searls

I recently flew through Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG), Terminal 1, on Icelandair and US Airways. To say the least, I wasn’t overwhelmed with the competency and professionalism of CDG’s security personnel.

I first wrote about some of the current CDG Terminal 1 problems almost four years ago. If anything, the security situation at CDG has seriously degraded. For example, its current procedures are now making it almost impossible to properly detect explosives in carry-ons through explosive trace detection, and can implicate completely innocent passengers.

CDG airport security continues to cause the time it takes to go through passenger screening unnecessarily long, and puts passengers’ valuables and breakables at considerable risk of damage and loss.

The easiest way to understand the problems of CDG airport security at Terminal 1 is to discuss a passenger’s journey through it.

At CDG Terminal 1, security is at the gate, after airport lounges, duty free shops, and food concessions. Since passengers have no idea how much time security will take, they are under severe pressure to go to their gate far earlier than might be necessary to ensure they don’t miss their flight, cutting shopping and time in airline lounges short. Moreover, as there are no food concessions beyond security, passengers have no opportunity to purchase water or other food and drink to bring on the planes. This especially impacts passengers seated in economy on long international flights.

Arriving at airport security in Terminal 1, each passenger is confronted with security line tables so small that only one passenger at a time can marshal their belongings to go through x-ray, causing significant gaps of time between passengers in each security line, slowing the lines unnecessarily.

Unlike most of the world’s airports, in addition to computers, tablets must be placed in individual trays. All cameras, except for compact “point and shoots,” must be taken out of their cases and put in individual trays.

Once your belongings are in trays and going through x-ray, all passengers go through metal detectors. More than half the passengers are then subject to patdowns because the metal detector beeps. Its sensitivity setting appears to be far too low. The patdowns are extremely unprofessional. In virtually every patdown I witnessed, the security officer rubbed the passenger’s genital area quite harshly and repeatedly, including mine.

Many carry-ons are pulled aside for hand checking, which happens at all airports. I suspect my carry-ons are regularly pulled aside for hand checking due to the numerous cables in them, which I use with my photography and computer gear.

The inspection tables at CDG are extremely small. There is no room to remove anything from passengers’ carry-ons and safely stow them. I asked the agent to be careful with my camera gear, but in rifling through my bag, two of my expensive lenses were dropped. Fortunately, I caught them.

At the least, more and larger tables must be provided at the beginning of security lines to speed them up, and at the end to facilitate safe hand inspections of carry-on bags.

Hand inspections at CDG Terminal 1 are very different than those I encounter at other airports. At CDG, the security agent isn’t required to wear gloves. When the agent began inspecting my bag I asked her to put on gloves. The agent and her supervisor ignored my pleas. I was upset with the procedure, not because she was handling my belongings in an unsanitary way, but due to potential contamination.

I was seriously concerned she would contaminate my belongings for the upcoming ETD, Explosive Trace Detection, test.

ETD equipment, used to analyze whether passengers or their luggage have recently been in contact with trace elements of explosives, can detect them down to a nanogram, a billionth of a gram.

Many, if not most, explosive chemicals are quite sticky, in part due to their molecular size and because they tend to be reactive nitro compounds, which easily adhere to other molecules, including skin, clothes, bags, laptops, etc., and are difficult to thoroughly clean. A terrorist may try to wash the compounds off everything, and themselves, but it’s extremely difficult.

By not wearing gloves, and/or changing gloves in between handling each passenger and their belongings, CDG security agents can easily transfer any explosive residue they contact from one passenger to the next and to the ETD swab they use to rub on passengers’ hands and their belongings.

Passengers can far too easily be detained and questioned based on a false positive of detected explosive chemicals because of this incompetent and unprofessional procedure.

Once through security, most passengers think they are ready to board, but such was not the case for economy passengers while I was at the gate. These passengers were required to go through secondary screening at the gate, some just minutes after clearing primary security, while business class passengers were all exempted from the extra screening. This is the same practice I’ve seen each time I’ve flown from CDG. Moreover, some passengers were required to have secondary screening well before boarding, then made to wait in a hallway with no lavatory access. They were treated as if they were prisoners.

These procedures and methodologies don’t seem rational to me.